I loved the novelty, in the Thatcher years, of striking off through the conflicted Docklands to Woolwich, Tilbury, Gravesend, as an entropy tourist with a fetish for future ruins.
I was writing a novel called Downriver and walking, in dialogue, with the cultural historian Patrick Wright, who lived close to me in Hackney.
We explored the territory together: the Bow Quarter development conjured from the Bryant & May match factory, the weaver’s garret occupied by David Rodinsky above a decommissioned synagogue in Princelet Street, and the first speculative (and doomed) ‘Montmartre meets Montserrat’ restaurant on Dalston Lane.
Wright managed to get an entire book out of a few hundred yards of old degraded Hackney – and, looking at the place now, you know he was on the money. Dalston Lane was the laboratory in which the wrong kind of future was being aborted: creative demolition, unexplained and uninvestigated arson attacks, compulsive façadism and glittering developments purchased by offshore investors. Dormitories for ghosts.
And Hackney’s first Premier Inn, built on a site owned by a property company based in West Yorkshire, and finessed by Dexter Moren Associates, a firm of architects also credited with the glitz of the Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard.
Wright’s book, A Journey through Ruins, was published in 1991. Coming back now to the true fiction of the street as it once was, I saw how prescient he had been, picking through the dirty footprints of Dalston Lane to sketch a firm outline around some of the predators lurking on the horizon.
Looking hard at the proposed ‘curved glass walls’ of the ‘civic pleasure palace’ of the coming Hackney Town Hall, Wright conjured the excesses of Trump Tower in New York City. Intimations of the man himself. His boundless ambition and gambler’s belief in magic.That, by the way, is a single paragraph in the original. There are writers who put less into whole books.
And Patrick Wright's A Journey Through Ruins is a wonderful book. It became a touchstone to me when I was writing my Masters dissertation on Richard Jefferies and the section on After London in particular.